Developing: President Obama won the election last week. And he thinks that means he can get what he wants.
Despite a careful avoidance of the word “mandate” and a back-to-business attitude at the White House since Nov. 6, the President and his staff are pounding a steady and constant message: we won, and we intend to capitalize on it. There was no greater example of this than at Wednesday’s press conference, when the president hearkened back to his presidential campaign and his victory again and again to suggest that the American people are on his side — and that Republicans need to get on board.
Past presidents have been ridiculed for overplaying their hands after electoral victories. George W. Bush famously declared “I earned capital in this campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it” after his 2004 win, laying out plans to privatize Social Security and other policy goals that landed with a distinct thud on Capitol Hill.
Obama said Wednesday he’s trying to avoid that kind of thing.
“I don’t presume that because I won an election that everybody suddenly agrees with me on everything. I’m more than familiar with all the literature about presidential overreach in second terms,” he told reporters. “We are very cautious about that. On the other hand, I didn’t get reelected just to bask in reelection. I got elected to do work.”
Still, it’s clear that Obama intends to wield his decisive victory over Mitt Romney as he tries to navigate a new path through a divided Congress. As he did on Friday in his post-election economic address, Obama made it clear he feels the long presidential campaign was plenty of negotiation when it comes to his plan to increase federal revenue by increasing the burden on the wealthiest Americans.
“This shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. If there’s one thing that everybody understood was a big difference between myself and Mr. Romney, it was when it comes to how we reduce our deficit,” Obama said.
“I argued for a balanced, responsible approach and part of that includes making sure that the wealthiest Americans pay a little bit more,” he added. “I think every voter out there understood that that was an important debate, and the majority of voters agreed with me. By the way, more voters agreed with me on this issue than voted for me.”
He brought up his victory when discussing other topics, too. When the conversation turned to immigration Wednesday, Obama noted he warned the GOP before the election that its alienation of the Latino vote would be a problem.
“I predicted that the Latino vote was going to be strong, and that fact would cause some reflection on the part of Republicans,” Obama said. He called for immigration reform and pointed out that the GOP is already moving in that direction.
But where Bush put down clear policy markers after he won, Obama is trying to use his election to put momentum behind a set of broader policy principles. He’s got help. Republicans are picking up the pieces from last Tuesday night, and already they’re backing off some of the intransigence that helped weaken their poll numbers in Congress and made it impossible for Romney to broaden his base. Obama’s ready to help that process along with a series of clear reminders that he won last week.